Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 11/11/11
IRVING, Texas Its easy to forget that Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett inherited one of the worst situations in franchise history. And its worth remembering that he played a significant role in the Cowboys 1-7 start last season that resulted in the midseason firing of Wade Phillips. Now that Garrett has 16 games under his belt as head coach, its time to take account of his overall performance. Just dont expect him to offer anything valuable in the form of self-evaluation.I think youre always trying to put your program in place, Garrett said Thursday. I think its an ongoing process for every team in the league. ... I do like the direction were going. I like the group of guys we have. To put it politely, Garrett is one of the worst quotes in the NFL. But that hasnt kept him from making a profound impact on this organization in a relatively short amount of time. His proudest moments over the past year came in the immediate aftermath of the Phillips administration. Garrett stood before his players and told them that things had to change. He put them in full pads that first week and sped up the pace of practice. Players were no longer allowed to walk between drills. Garrett brought a sense of urgency that had been missing and the Cowboys saw immediate results in the form of a stunning upset of the New York Giants in the Meadowlands. Garrett instituted a stricter dress code for road games and he placed an emphasis on takeaways that helped the Cowboys close the season with a 5-3 record. But he hasnt exactly built on that momentum this season with a 4-4 record. In six of the seven losses under his watch, the Cowboys have lost by four points or less. It speaks to how competitive theyve been, but it also illustrates how theyve had trouble finishing games. In losses to the Jets and Lions this season, the Cowboys lost double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. Garrett stresses situational football constantly in practice, but it hasnt always translated to the games. Theres no shame in the Cowboys being 9-7 under Garrett, but theres definitely an elephant in the room. Garretts coaching career with the Cowboys, in many ways will be defined by how quarterback Tony Romo performs. The two have been together since Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007, Romo's second season as a starter, and its been a rocky marriage at times. Romo famously called out his offensive coordinator following a season-ending loss to the Eagles in 08 before having a breakout season in 09. Romo missed much of last season with a broken collarbone and hes been wildly inconsistent through the first eight games of 2011. In a stunning loss to the Lions last month, Garrett wasnt able to save Romo from himself as his three second-half interceptions allowed the Lions to erase a 27-3 deficit and win at Cowboys Stadium. Garrett responded by putting a short leash on Romo during a close road loss against the Patriots. The quarterback is taking fewer shots downfield than at any time in his career, which seems to indicate a lack of trust from the head coach. Its difficult to determine whether Garretts been undermined by his quarterback or vice versa. The head coachs play-calling in New England earned him a second-guess from owner Jerry Jones. And like it or not, part of Garretts job description is managing the ownergeneral manager. In that category, youd have to say Garrett has done a pretty effective job. Jones said that Garrett would have final say on all roster decisions, although the owner may have retained a Martellus Bennett exemption. Garrett hasnt been afraid to replace veteran starters with younger, more talented players such as linebacker Sean Lee. And with rookie running back DeMarco Murrays rise to prominence, surely Garrett will keep him in a feature role once Felix Jones returns from an ankle injury. Garrett may throw a wet blanket on the media, but hes obviously connecting with his players. Even longtime Phillips supporters such as linebacker Keith Brooking were a little taken back by how quickly Garrett took control of the locker room. The coach had scoreboards installed at the practice field to help simulate game conditions and he has a tout board outside the locker room where players receive weekly awards. Hes restored a sense of pride at Valley Ranch that was missing when he took over last November. Hes been brilliant, tight end Jason Witten said of Garrett. Its unfortunate the record doesnt show how fabulous of a job hes done. When you turn on that film or the opponents that have played us, win or lose, I think they would say they feel the way we play them and the style we play with. I think that starts with him. The way he coaches and the way he demands that. Still, there will always be critics. Even a mentor that Garrett has idolized, Jimmy Johnson, said on FOX this past Sunday that hed be wise to hire an offensive coordinator and stop worrying about calling plays. Garrett, one of the few remaining head coaches in the league who calls plays on offense, respectfully disagreed with Johnsons opinion. I think the biggest thing that we do pretty well is we communicate during the game, and that's within the offensive staff, said Garrett. I also think it's among all of the guys on the staff. I think our communication is good. Obviously, Rob Ryan is calling the defense, but as a head coach you have to be involved in all three phases and I think we communicate well, we communicate quickly and it's been an effective way to do it. The good thing for Garrett is that hell likely have a lot more than 16 games to prove his worth as head coach. Right now, youd have to give him a grade of incomplete, which is something they probably don't issue at Princeton.
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